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Performer blends circus with comedy at festival

Aytahn Ross is the featured performer Saturday, June 9 at the annual Fort Macleod Children's Arts Festival sponsored by the Allied Arts Council.

Aytahn Ross turned a childhood hobby into a job that he loves.
Ross weaves his juggling and balancing skills into a show that has entertained audiences around the world — bringing himself joy in the process.
“If they have a smile or a laugh I’ve really done my job,” Ross said. “If they forget about their daily lives for a moment or any problems and just feel a moment of magic, that would be the ideal . . . a little bit of amazement, that would be nice.”
Ross is the featured performer Saturday, June 9 at the Fort Macleod Children’s Arts Festival, which gets under way at 10 a.m. at the arena.
“My show is circus and comedy,” Ross explained with a laugh. “What that means is if something isn’t funny, that’s the circus part of it.”
Ross delivered his entertaining 25-minute show last year at the festival, which is sponsored by the Allied Arts Council of Fort Macleod.
The show includes lots of juggling and balancing with some vaudeville-style tricks.
One of Ross’s talents is to fill his mouth with ping pong balls and juggle them with his breath.
“That’s a really silly, weird kind of piece,” Ross laughed.
Another popular skill is juggling plates and balancing them on the end of a stick. A young member of the audience is called onto the stage to try his or her luck, often with hilarious results.
“It’s a way of connecting with people, and its lots of fun,” Ross said of audience involvement. “Often things that are unplanned are most entertaining.”
The finale is the human jenga, named for an actual game, which involves Ross stacking wooden blocks and balancing them on his chin.
“You have these giant building blocks that I stack up in precarious positions,” Ross said. “Depending on the venue, I will sometimes put a fire torch on the very tip-top.”
When he’s not on stage, Ross will teach the tricks of his trade to children and adults at the children’s festival.
“I’m bringing along some circus juggling equipment,” Ross said. “That’s my primary skill set is with object manipulation.”
Ross will have bean bags, flower sticks, diablos, yo-yos and peacock feathers he will use to instruct people on how to balance and juggle.
“That’s a blast,” Ross said. “Pretty much people of all ages can come over and give a try and learn to juggle or balance things.”
“It’s very fun physically, it’s good for the brain and it’s just silly and fun,” Ross said, adding with a chuckle, “No fire, and no chain saws for that portion.”
The 38-year-old Ross, who has been performing professionally for more than two decades, started juggling and balancing things at an early age.
“It was a hobby. As a child I wasn’t very athletic and it was my strange hobby that became a career.”
While Ross was growing up his family volunteered at various typical Canadian festivals, so he was exposed to many types of performers.
When other children his age were enrolling in hockey school, Ross enrolled by his mother in the Actors’ Showcase in Winnipeg, which is now the Manitoba Theatre for Young People.
“My mother decided I had really good teeth and it would be better if I kept my teeth,” Ross said, laughing. “I ended up in theatre school.”
Ross had the right energy and flair for performing so the Actors’ Showcase was a natural fit. When he was about 14 Ross started performing for money, getting paid to do shows at events such as Canada Day.
Ross compared at the $75 he earned for dressing in red and juggling for a day to the same amount friends earned in two weeks on their paper routes.
After high school Ross went to university to pursue a classical education, studying literature, history, philosophy and other subjects while considering what he might like as a career.
“It was only after university that I realized I already had something that I was doing that was interesting, that I could earn money at, and that I got to travel,” Ross said. “I decided to commit myself to it.”
Ross clearly made the right choice. He has performed in shows such as Just For Laughs, at shows on Parliament Hill, and in command performances for the Governor General.
Ross makes a full-time living through his company Circus Montreal, performing on grand stages such as Massey Hall in Toronto, the Orpheum in Vancouver and the National Arts Centre.
Every stage — even ones as small as Fort Macleod’s — remain important to Aytahn Ross.
“I used to love going to the big city. The bigger city, the bigger event, the better,” Ross said. “Over the years I believe the exact opposite. The smaller the town and the more community-related the event is the more fun I have, the more I connect with the people.”
“Fort Macleod is exactly that for me. ‘I’m very much excited to be coming there again.”

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